Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans–Part Two

An Annotated Bibliography

See the Bibliographic Essay and Rationale here. Or, see my video presentation here.

Cofer, Judith Ortiz. Call Me María. 2004. Reprint, New York: Scholastic, 2006.

Worried about her father’s depressive state, María decides to move with him to a barrio in New York to look after him and seek an education, leaving her mother behind in Puerto Rico. María tries to fit in, get used to English (and Spanish) and stay neutral as she witnesses her parents’ marriage deteriorating. Perceptive and introspective María expresses herself in a mix of poems, prose, and letters home to her mother. More than just an immigration story, Call Me María is a collage of emotions and strength that reads easily. Ages 12 and up.

If I Could FlyCofer, Judith Ortiz. If I Could Fly. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.

When Doris’ mother abruptly leaves for Puerto Rico after a health scare, Doris anxiously hopes she will return. Two months later, her mother confirms that she will not be coming back to New Jersey and her life with Doris’ father as a salsero singer. Doris feels alienated by her father’s move to get a new girlfriend and tries to fend for herself. She turns to her friends, Arturo, Yolanda, her elderly neighbor Doña Iris, and the homing pigeons on the roof. Misfortune strikes them too and Doris wishes she could just escape. After a visit to her mother in Puerto Rico, though, she realizes it’s better to confront your problems than to run from them. Full of life-drama, this book will appeal to adolescents dealing with the grief of divorce and tragedy. Ages 13 and up.

Dole, Mayra Lazara. Down to the Bone. New York: HarperTeen, 2008.

Laura gets expelled from Catholic school and, subsequently, her house when the nuns and her Cuban mother discover that she is a lesbian, also known as a “tortillera” in the Miami Latino community. Her girlfriend, Marlena’s family reacts by sending her back to Puerto Rico to marry a man. Thankfully, Laura is not completely alone and is taken in by her best friend Soli and her mother Vivi. Laura attempts to find herself through several experiments with relationships, all the while maintaining her optimism. Teens will relish the dichotomy of the humor and pain in Laura’s story. Ages 14 and up.

Color of My WordsJoseph, Lynn. The Color of My Words. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2000.

Ana Rosa is a dreamer who longs to become a writer, always stealing away scraps of paper to write her poems and stories on. Her impoverished life in the Dominican Republic leaves little hope, especially after she witnesses her brother’s death trying to protect her the day of her thirteenth birthday. She temporarily gives up writing until she realizes the healing power of telling her brother’s story—and her own—with words. Full of beautiful, descriptive language, this story lends itself well to read-alouds and celebrates the triumph of human resilience. Ages 10 and up.

López, Lorraine. Call Me Henri. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2006.

In a rough urban landscape of gangs, beatings, death and abuse, Enrique juggles a complicated existence between a middle school trying to assimilate him with ESL classes and the care of triplet baby brothers that he has assumed responsibility for at home. Privately, he wishes he could just learn French, a language much closer to his native Spanish. After witnessing a drive-by shooting and his own safety now threatened, supportive and sympathetic teachers intervene and arrange for an escape that is a fulfillment of Enrique’s dream. Tension and action pair with hope in this realistic account of a Mexican-American teen’s life in the barrio. Ages 12 and up.

HeatLupica, Mike. Heat. New York: Philomel Books, 2006.

Michael Arroyo is a talented baseball player with a problem. Ironically, it is the same talent that is threatening his future. Rival coaches don’t believe that he could be so good at twelve, but Miguel has no way to prove his age since his birth certificate is back in Cuba! What’s more, Michael has no parents left and if social services finds out that his dad passed away, they will put him and his older brother Carlos in foster care. Their hope is to hide the truth for a few more months until Carlos turns eighteen. There is a fairytale ending in store, but readers will appreciate the snappy dialogue and the passion Michael has for his sport. Ages 11 and up.

McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. Under the Mesquite. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2011.

Lupita’s mother is dying of cancer and their close knit-family feels like it’s unraveling as the disease takes her away. Papi takes care of her mom while Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. After her mother’s death, Lupita struggles with grief and sustaining the will to move forward with what she and her mother saw as goals for herself. She visits and seeks support from family in both Mexico and Texas and eventually comes to peace and finds herself ready to face her future. Beautifully written and entirely in verse, Under the Mesquite offers an honest look at loss, family and love. Ages 12 and up.

Yaqui DelgadoMedina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2013.

When Piddy Sanchez is told that a stranger at her new school named Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass, she is utterly confused. Though Piddy is half-Dominican and half-Cuban, she is scorned by a rough group of Latino girls for being too white and too smart. At first, she tries to ignore the threats, but the bullying escalates from verbal abuse to physical confrontations. Piddy’s once-strong grades fall and she begins skipping school due to her constant fear of being attacked. There is no simple solution to the problem, but first Piddy has to at least break the silence. Meg Medina skillfully explores the complexity and difficulty of bullying situations, while accurately portraying the terror and conflicting emotions of a victim. This is a valuable, yet realistic book for teens and the adults in their lives. Ages 12 and up.

Miller-Lachmann, Lyn. Gringolandia. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2009.

Daniel Aquilar’s family fled to Madison, Wisconsin, after his father Marcelo was arrested, held and tortured as a military prisoner in Chile. After six years, his father is released and rejoins the family in 1986, but is thoroughly jostled by the adjustment to a new place—“Gringolandia,” he calls it. Daniel and his “gringa” girlfriend Courtney witness the damage that the trauma has caused with mixed emotions. Though in wretched shape, Marcelo is still an activist yearning to continue the fight in Chile and Daniel is led to reconcile his conflicted attitude toward his former country and roots. This novel provides a hard-hitting look at the effects of oppression, post-traumatic stress and healing. Ages 15 and up.

Enrique's JourneyNazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013.

Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, left her children behind in Honduras when Enrique was only five in order to seek relief from poverty and go find work in the United States. Like many children in this situation, Enrique is utterly lost and confused by the absence of his mother, so he sets off eleven years later, determined to find her again, on a treacherous journey across Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico—mostly on the tops of freight trains. Their reunion is not without its ups and downs either as they try to heal the pain and resentment of the separation. Sonia Nazario conducted her research first-hand and traced the journey of this real migrant boy. This book is a young adult adaptation of her 2007 book for adults updated with current immigration statistics, but it does not gloss over the true perils (such as maiming, rape, beatings and death) these migrants face. It is an eye-opening, humanizing look at immigration, sure to trigger discussion. Ages 14 and up.

Osa, Nancy. Cuba 15. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.

Violet Paz lives in Chicago and doesn’t know much about her half-Cuban roots, nor does she really speak Spanish. She definitely is not interested in having a quinceañera, the traditional Latina coming-of-age party complete with tiaras and frilly pink dresses. But when her abuelita from Miami comes to visit and begins making plans for a “quince,” she eventually accepts. During the preparations, Violet learns a lot about what it means to be Cuban and manages to find a way to make the party her own. Sassy, fun and rich in culture, the reader will have a ball on this romp through a Latino tradition. Ages 12 and up.

We Were HerePeña, Matt de la. We Were Here. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Miguel Castañeda is sentenced to a year of juvie in a California group home. He and two friends he makes there, Mong and Rondell, hatch a plan to bust out and escape to Mexico. They make their way down the coast with a wad of stolen money and hopes of starting over. Miguel keeps a journal of their adventure as he tries to come to terms with his crime and cultural identity, revealing a side most would not see from appearances. The journey comes full circle as two of the boys end up heading back to where they started. This is an intense, gripping story about troubled teens that even reluctant readers will enjoy. Ages 15 and up.

Reader’s Response Journal: Seedfolks

SeedfolksCitation:

Fleischman, Paul. Seedfolks. New York: Joanna Cotler Books-HarperCollins, 1997. Print.

Plot:

Thirteen unrelated voices come together one at a time narrating the evolution of an inner-city community garden from a garbage-ridden empty lot. When a young Vietnamese girl plants some lima beans as an offering to the father she never knew, she unknowingly begins a movement and inspires her community to join her in changing the empty space. Friendships grow along with the plants as characters such as a British nurse and her stroke-affected elderly patient, a pregnant teenager, a son of a Haitian taxi-driver, a lovesick former bodybuilder, and a feisty community advocate describe their experiences with the project. Each shares their hopes and worries, solve problems, and begin to care for each other and their neighborhood. The harvest celebration at the end of the summer is evidence of how far they’ve come.

Setting:

A vacant lot (and the neighborhood surrounding it) in contemporary Cleveland, Ohio.

Point of View:

13 different 1st person voices

Theme:

Community pride, responsibility, self-sustenance, bridging differences, immigrants, gardening.

Literary Quality:

Each character’s story is developed in a single vignette marked by their first name and an illustration of their face at the beginning of the chapter. Their viewpoints eventually overlap with experiences of other people in the community. There is not a conflict to hold the story together or create a plot around and the characters receive one opportunity to speak their minds. It is up to the reader to piece together the story and see the interconnectivity. The text is succinctly written and layered with humor, prejudice, strength, and growing understanding.

Cultural Authenticity:

Though Paul Fleischman had never lived in the Cleveland neighborhood he described, he had other life experience with multiethnic cities.  His characters are diverse and life-like, each having depth and their own histories. He did research and talked to people about community gardens and the city of Cleveland. The inclusion of multiple cultures and immigrant groups is a celebration of the diversity that composes many urban communities.

Audience:

This book would be appropriate for middle school readers. The brevity of the text lends itself well to read-alouds and may also appeal to reluctant older readers. Upper elementary readers could probably handle the book, though some of the characters’ issues may be of less interest (such as teen-pregnancy or wooing an ex-girlfriend).

Personal Reaction:

Reading this book was a delightful experience for me. There is a small community garden not far from where I live that I often run by. I have never stopped to talk to any of the gardeners, but I am curious to know how they have procured their own space in it. I am a notorious plant-killer and have had very little luck with my own houseplants, but now I am kind of inspired to try again. Perhaps with the help of the natural elements and a small space (like a pot on my deck) I might be successful growing my own herbs or something. I really appreciated Fleischman’s inclusion of all kinds of community members that might come together and grow through such an experience. I especially liked Leona, who figured it “wasn’t a job for no wheelbarrow. This was a job for the telephone” and then she went to task calling the city to get the garbage cleaned up. (Given my history with plants, I would probably have been more useful on the phone like that too…) Each person had something to offer!

Reader’s Response Journal: Same Sun Here

Same Sun HereCitation:

House, Silas and Neela Vaswani. Same Sun Here. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2012. Print.

Plot:

Meena and River are penpals from seemingly very different backgrounds. Meena is an immigrant girl from India living in New York City and River is a boy from Kentucky who loves basketball. As they exchange snail-mail, they discover that they are kindred spirits who both have a strong attachment to their respective grandmothers and families whose father has to live separately from them in order to work. Like most good friendships, they are able to resolve a conflict respectfully, even though it is through letters. They rejoice in each other’s triumphs, teach each other about their different cultures and lifestyles, and encourage each other through some hard times, including a death and local tragedy, without ever having met.

Setting:

New York City and Eastern Kentucky, in 2008 and 2009.

Point of View:

1st person epistolary (Meena and River)

Theme:

Family, friendships, confidants, cultural acceptance, cultural encounters, grief and worry, activism, respect.

Literary Quality:

The book was written as series of letters between two middle schoolers, including drawings, poems, plays that they wanted to share with each other as friends. These additional elements add an authentic feel of the experimentation new friends do to share and get to know each other. The inclusion of family members’ influence on their lives provides depth to their feelings. The book received positive attention for its audiobook performance by the authors, as well as honors from the South Asia Book Award Committee and Bank Street College of Education.

Cultural Authenticity:

This book was co-authored by two talented writers, each a member of the cultural experience that their characters represented. The characters teach each other—and the reader—about their culture and community through questions and answers they exchange in the letters. For example, Meena includes Hindi words and translations and talks about New York rent control and bindis, while River explains what Little Debbie cakes are and describes the controversial issue of mountaintop removal in the Appalachians.

Audience:

This book is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. It will appeal equally to boys and girls as both have an equal voice. Since it also represents several distinct cultures (American, Indian, immigrant, urban, rural), it may appeal to a wider readership than those interested in a single parallel culture.

Personal Reaction:

As I read this book, I was reminded of my own experience with penpal-writing and the longing I had to connect with a best friend. For several years, I wrote letters to new friends in Nebraska and England, sharing photographs and homemade beads, worries, family issues, dreams and advice. I definitely would have identified with this book back then and it probably would have encouraged me to write even more letters! I enjoyed the influence that each child had on the other and how they were open to learning from each other. There were moments that I was a little surprised that River as a tween boy would play along with a girl suggesting that he pour out his heart so easily. However, it did lend to a convincing friendship anyway, even if I think that such tween boys are pretty rare.

Reader’s Response Journal: A Step from Heaven

A Step from HeavenCitation:

Na, An. A Step from Heaven. 2001. New York: Speak-Penguin Putnam, 2002. Print.

Plot:

As a four year-old, Young Ju’s experience of immigrating with her parents is confusing, especially since they have left her grandmother behind in Korea. When her brother Joon Ho is born shortly after their arrival, Young Ju is disrupted again, as a son is more important to her father than a daughter. As she grows up and learns English in the United States, she experiences the strain between cultures and the relationship between her parents disintegrates. Young Ju and Joon both lie to their parents in order to spend time with their American friends. One day, her father catches her in a lie about her friend Amanda, and he delivers a beating to Young Ju and then her mother that ultimately changes all of their lives.

Setting:

Korea and Southern California, contemporary time period.

Point of View:

1st person (Young Ju)

Theme:

Immigration, culture shock, domestic abuse, gender roles, coming of age, identity.

Literary Quality:

An Na convincingly portrays the simple voice of a young child, showing the passage of time through her development of language. As Young Ju ages, we see the growing complexity of her family’s dynamics in her narration. Her emotions are vividly described and we as readers share in her joy and pain. An Na was honored with the Printz Award, the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, National Book Award Finalist and multiple others for this, her first novel.

Cultural Authenticity:

The author, like her characters, was also an immigrant to the United States from Korea. She contrasts Korean and American culture through the family’s experiences with adapting to the change, especially in regards to gender roles and respect of elders. The inclusion of Korean words and sounds at the beginning of the book are a beautiful reflection of how language sounds to a young English Language Learner. She also uses the Korean terms for the adult family members throughout the entire book.

Audience:

This book would most appeal to a young adult audience.  Middle schoolers might also be interested, though the abstract use of language to portray a four year-old Korean child at the beginning might be a bit overwhelming for some. Readers with some prior knowledge of the Korean immigrant experience and/or Korean culture will also identify with this book.

Personal Reaction:

I was awestruck by the genius use of language to portray aging, language development and acculturation in the main character. It was so impressive to me to be able to infer Young Ju’s age through her words without needing a lot of other contextual markers (like grades in school). I also smiled ruefully at the introduction of her little brother as the new “prince” in her family, as some of my Korean immigrant friends have told me similar stories of their brothers when they were growing up. This was short, but powerful, book that dealt with some tough issues in a strong and empowering way. It was frustrating at times to see Young Ju and her mother feel caught, but the resolution was satisfying. I was glad to feel as though it would work out for them and that they finally had their feet at the end.

Reader’s Response Journal: Esperanza Rising

Esperanza RisingCitation:

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Esperanza Rising. 2000. New York: Scholastic, 2007. Print.

Plot:

After Esperanza’s father is murdered and their house mysteriously burns down, Esperanza and her mother escape with a family of their former servants (Hortensia, Alfonzo and Miguel) in the middle of the night to avoid being caught by Tío Luis, who wants to marry Esperanza’s mother in order to increase his political status. They make the long journey to California hiding in the bed of a papaya truck and then on a dusty train, where they settle in with the family of Alfonzo’s brother to work in the fields picking fruits and vegetables. At first Esperanza has a hard time adjusting to the sudden poverty that she had never experienced before. When Esperanza’s mother falls seriously ill, Esperanza steps up and takes her place working in the fields to be able to pay the medical bills and save money to bring Abuelita from Mexico. One day, Miguel runs off and Esperanza discovers that he has stolen all of the money she saved. Esperanza’s mother recovers and Miguel eventually returns with a surprise that lifts everyone’s spirits.

Setting:

Set in the 1920s and 1930s in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and the San Joaquin Valley, California.

Point of View:

3rd person

Theme:

Coming of age, riches-to-rags, humility, poverty, corruption, racism and classism, teamwork, importance of family.

Literary Quality:

The writing is descriptive and believable, from Esperanza’s spoiled brat attitudes to her extreme worry over her mother’s health. Muñoz Ryan creatively uses fruits and vegetables as themes for each chapter, symbolizing an important event and eventually the growing season that Esperanza and her “extended family” arrange their lives around. This book won the Pura Belpré Award, was honored by the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and made multiple “best books” lists.

Cultural Authenticity:

The book is peppered with Mexican proverbs and even a traditional birthday song in Spanish, all translated to English as well. Muñoz Ryan wrote this book based on the recollections and the life of her own grandmother who immigrated to the United States to work in the migrant farm camps under similar circumstances and conditions. She researched the strikes and labor movements described in the book, the Repatriation and Deportation Acts and the Valley Fever that made Esperanza’s mother sick (and that Muñoz Ryan herself tested positive for the antibodies of due to growing up in the same valley).

Audience:

This book would be appropriate for an upper-elementary or middle school audience. It has a general appeal and a twist on the rags-to-riches theme where the wealthy are humbled instead. The Spanish language and cultural content is handled with support for the unfamiliar reader.

Personal Reaction:

This book pleasantly surprised me, because I expected a more babyish story. Instead I got a realistic look at life during this time period, with dynamic characters that had very human emotions and reactions. Esperanza’s difficulty with adjusting and her irritation with Isabel were so very well done. I had always meant to read this story and had even always heard positive reviews of it, even from students who are reluctant readers, so I am glad that I had the chance. The book was so engaging that I just ate it up.

Reader’s Response Journal: Breaking Through

Breaking ThroughCitation:

Jiménez, Francisco. Breaking Through. Carmel: Hampton-Brown, 2001. Print.

Plot:

Francisco Jiménez writes a memoir of his secondary school days in California where his family came as migrant farm workers. He and his brother were deported when he was 14, temporarily causing the family to move back to Mexico. When they return, Panchito (as he is known by his family) and his older brother Roberto work part-time jobs throughout junior high and high school to help support their family, especially since their father’s health and depression sometimes prevents him from working. Panchito does not have a lot of time for friends, but does enjoy going to dances and participating in student government. He manages to get into college and get enough scholarships (and a loan) to attend. It is difficult for his father to support Panchito in going to college, but his mother and little brother help him accept the idea, with some help from Panchito’s counselor and teacher.

Setting:

Bonetti Ranch and Santa Maria, California, in the 1950s and 60s.

Point of View:

1st person (Panchito)

Theme:

Family loyalty, respect for parents, racism, poverty, cultural pride, identity, coming of age, education as liberator.

Literary Quality:

Jiménez’s writing is clear and descriptive, with the right amount of dialogue to move the story along. The retelling of his adolescence is coherent, instead of just a string of disjointed anecdotes. This edition includes “On-Page Coach” annotations of bolded vocabulary, on-page glossaries and discussion questions. Breaking Through won the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the Pura Belpré Award, the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and made several other “best books” lists between 2001 and 2003. Fortunately, Panchito’s tale is continued in Jiménez’s two other memoirs on his childhood and young adulthood.

Cultural Authenticity:

Given that Francisco Jiménez is a cultural insider and is writing an autobiographical account, the cultural authenticity of Breaking Through is solid. He includes some expressions in Spanish, which are often explained, though not translated, in context. This edition’s on-page glossaries added translations of any words that the reader wanted clarification on. The reader gets a rich view of the life of this Mexican American family. Jiménez also showed contrast of the two cultures he was navigating by including both of his nicknames—“Panchito” with the Mexicans and “Frankie” with the Americans. He consulted with other family members to corroborate and develop some of the stories he included in the book.

Audience:

The interest level of this book is probably aimed at middle and high school readers, since these are the years of Jiménez’s life that were featured. The “On-Page Coach” notes from publisher Hampton-Brown also make the book accessible even to low-intermediate (and up) English Language Learners and reluctant readers, by simplifying idiomatic language that could be confusing. Young readers will appreciate the struggles Panchito experienced with his family and his studies and will be inspired by his dedication and hope for the future.

Personal Reaction:

This book was one that I had been meaning to read for years because of its relevance to the immigrant student population I work with. It was an enjoyable read and I was surprised by the traditional values and strong work ethic it promotes. I wondered if Panchito was really as well-behaved as he came off to be in the text. His infractions of disrespect and talking back seem benign to me (I was much sassier, as are many of the teenagers I know), but he really was a likable character that I was rooting for in the end. I was impressed by how Jiménez skillfully and subtly gave the reader looks at the racism he experienced, the fear of being revealed as an immigrant, and the confusion he had sometimes as an English Language Learner and outsider of the dominant culture.

Reader’s Response Journal: La Línea

La LineaCitation:

Jaramillo, Ann. La Línea. New Milford, Connecticut: Roaring Brook Press, 2006. Print.

Plot:

Miguel’s plans to leave Mexico and join his parents in El Norte change when his younger sister, Elena, unexpectedly joins him. The two take a bus, ride on top of freight trains, and hide under blankets in the back of a pickup to get to the border town where they meet the coyote, Moisés,who will smuggle them across the border. They narrowly escape several dangerous situations, lose much of their money and meet a Central American traveling companion along the way. A seasoned professional, Moisés prepares them and leads them on their walk across the desert, but he is shot and captured by militia halfway through the journey. On their own, they battle thirst and the elements before making it back to civilization in Southern California, barely alive. In an epilogue set ten years later, the brother and sister look back on the experience with heavy hearts.

Setting:

Contemporary time period. Set on the road between San Jacinto, Mexico, and California.

Point of View:

1st person (Miguel)

Theme:

Immigration and migration, survival, danger, coming of age, sibling relations, separation of families.

Literary Quality:

Jaramillo’s novel is fast-moving and succinct, yet filled with powerful imagery. The plot is not overridden the protagonists being assaulted with every worst-case scenario that could possibly happen, nor does it gloss over the real life-threatening perils they face. Each chapter is short, lasting no more than a couple pages and every character and description serves to move the plot forward. La Línea was honored with the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2007 and appeared on multiple “best books” lists during 2006 and 2007.

Cultural Authenticity:

The author was inspired to write this novel by the Mexican immigrant middle school students she teaches in California. She explains at the end of the book how she based the story on real situations and events. She also consulted with individuals and organizations interested in the struggle of immigrants at the border, especially the reporting of Sonia Nazario, the author of the highly acclaimed nonfiction book, Enrique’s Journey. Spanish language is integrated into the novel, often without a recasting of the English translation, yet generally comprehensible from the context. This technique gives the book the feel that the characters actually are Mexican teenagers, not just an English-speaking version of who the author imagines they are.

Audience:

La Línea is probably most appropriate for a middle school or young adult audience. It could especially appeal to reluctant readers because of its length, action and linear plot. This book might also be useful for opening dialogue around the topic of illegal immigration and undocumented children in the United States since it presents the “human side” to the story.

Personal Reaction:

This book takes me though multiple emotions: frustration, anticipation, mistrust, worry, relief, satisfaction, sadness. I love the use of Spanish and the love-hate relationship between brother and sister. I first encountered La Línea a couple years ago when I used it as a read-aloud for a READ 180 class I was teaching. As an ESL teacher, I was aware that many of my students were undocumented immigrants, but I didn’t have any idea how parallel many of their stories were to this book. I remember asking several times, “Does this really happen?” and they would confirm it with extra details of what happened to them, tell me about how they were raised by grandparents while their parents were here, or recommend similar Spanish-language movies. Jaramillo wrote a story that needed to be told!